NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Origins Of Environmental Justice

March 30, 1999

According to Safety-Kleen Corp. official Thomas S. Mullikin, the environmental justice movement was born in 1982, when North Carolina decided to build a hazardous waste landfill in Warren County -- one of the poorest regions of the state, with the highest percentage of minorities of any county in the state.

The protest that followed the siting decision led to studies which found exposure to toxic wastes and other environmental risk was falling disproportionately upon minority and/or low-income communities across the country. However, other studies found conflicting evidence. For instance:

  • A University of Massachusetts study found there was no evidence that hazardous waste facilities were being systematically sited near disadvantaged communities or people of color.
  • A Washington University of St. Louis study argued that minorities move to communities with polluting industries because homes are cheaper.
  • The Environmental Protection Agency investigated 1,234 Superfund sites in 1995 and found no evidence of environmental racism.

Furthermore, Mullikin's former law firm examined the demographics of residents near every hazardous waste treatment, storage and disposal facility in South Carolina and found the overall racial composition was within 3 percentage points of the statewide average. They also found a majority of the facilities were located in areas with minority populations below the state average. And they found no disparity in the way regulators enforced environmental rules in minority communities compared to other areas.

Source: Thomas S. Mullikin (Safety-Kleen Corp.), "Business and the Environment," Vital Speeches, March 15, 1999.


Browse more articles on Environment Issues